Day after tension, Lal Chowk back to business

Thursday, January 27, 2011

SRINAGAR - A day after curfew-like restrictions, life in Srinagar and other towns of Kashmir Valley bounced back to normal Thursday. City centre Lal Chowk, which had been tense over plans to unfurl the national flag there, was its bustling self.

Markets opened early despite the morning winter chill as transport plied normally to ferry officegoers and businessmen to their places of work.

It’s difficult to believe this is the same place that witnessed an eerie silence throughout the day Wednesday, said Muhammad Ramzan, 35, a government employee here.

This year tensions had unusually mounted in Srinagar city as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) announced its decision to hoist the national flag in city centre Lal Chowk Jan 26, when India celebrates Republic Day.

Reacting to the BJP’s plan, the separatist Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) also announced a counter march to Lal Chowk the same day.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, taking Home Minister P. Chidambaram on board, decided to crack the whip on both the BJP and the JKLF in order to ensure that nobody was allowed to vitiate the atmosphere in the valley.

Normalcy has returned to the valley after a bloody summer unrest that claimed 110 lives as irate protesters and security forces clashed here for over four months, crippling life and dealing a severe blow to tourism-based local economy.

The security forces swooped down on senior BJP leaders and activists in the Jammu region and Srinagar, and the JKLF march was also firmly put down by the authorities here.

Lal Chowk has a history of political upheavals. The separatists still maintain it was at this city centre that the first prime minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, promised referendum to Kashmiris.

Senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi had led a flag march to Lal Chowk in 1992 guarded by heavy security,” said Manzoor Ahmad, 36, a resident of the adjacent Abi Guzar locality here.

“Last year separatists announced many marches to Lal Chowk and during one of them, government offices and public property were set ablaze.”

Despite political upheavals and one-upmanship of marches to this major business hub of Srinagar, Lal Chowk Thursday opened normally for business, with shoppers and commuters walking around.

Perhaps the resumption of normalcy in Lal Chowk was a signal to politicians — leave the city centre to the care of pavement sellers and shopkeepers whose families depend on it for their livelihood.

Politics can wait, but my family needs two square meals daily for which Lal Chowk must function normally, said Mehraj-ud-Din, who sells fruit near the city centre here.

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